Their Eyes Were Watching God

May 8, 2017
Their Eyes Were Watching God Book Cover Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Harper Perennial Modern Classics
November 23rd, 2004
Library; Blogger Recommendation

One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston's beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. 

A true literary wonder, Hurston's masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published - perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.

(via Goodreads)


Wow! A HUGE thank you to Melanie @ Grab the Lapels for recommending not only this book but specifically the audiobook to me!  Winner of the Audie Award for Solo Narration – Female in 2001, listening to Ruby Dee recite Their Eyes Were Watching God was incredibly powerful. I love this book even more for her interpretation.

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is the soulful and heart-wrenching tale of Janie Crawford’s life.  At the beginning of the book. Janie returns to her home in Eatonville, FL, one of the first all-black communities, and tells her story to a good friend, Phoeby, who has come to see what befell Janie during her absence. Expecting Janie to pick up when she left Eatonville, Janie instead jumps us, the reader who suddenly transformed into Phoeby, back in time to when Janie learned what it means to love and lust when she turned seventeen. But, being a black woman in the early 1920s, life was not easy for her. And so her woeful tale goes.

The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.

It was beautiful and painful watching a young and carefree Janie grow up into a woman who realizes what oppression means at the hands of those you love, and what it means to love and lose. Janie has three marriages throughout this novel. With each one, she gains more insight into her own soul. What her needs, desires, and hopes are. It’s a long and exhausting road, but we get to watch Janie grow from servitude to stability, from self-denial to self-actualization. As with most things in life, there are unexpected turns. But the most astounding part of Janie’s tale is the strength she has grown into to survive those turns.

Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.

The most beautiful part of this story is Hurston’s writing. The dialogue captures to quirky characteristics of the southern black American community coupled with feathery poetic prose.  This twist of both colloquial language and poetic prose is completely engrossing. Life-like dialogue coupled with poetic metaphor captured my attention and punched me in the gut emotionally. It’s easy to see Hurston as a philosopher and feminist ahead of her time, seamlessly tying together two unique voices into a beautiful ballad of love, grief, and freedom.

He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom-a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God.

And Ruby Dee. Oh, Ruby Dee. You are a wonder. As civil rights activist, actress, and poet it was obvious that Dee truly understood this story. Through her magnificent voice, the characters truly came to life. The men, particularly Joe Starks and Tea Cake grew larger than life in my ears. Even listening to the store assistant pretending to be an adult by mimicking Joe Starks was spot on. I feel if I had read these words instead of listening to them, I would have missed something important. The dialect, inflection, and mood of the character’s interactions with one another would have been lost on me. The subtlety of societal pressure and class systems in the southern black community would not have been as apparent. Ruby Dee made this experience perfection for me. I would recommend anyone who wants to read this book to start with the audiobook. Even if you don’t normally listen to audiobooks.

“…Dat’s whut she wanted for me—don’t keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn’t have time tuh think what tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin’. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high school lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin’ extry and Ah ain’t read de common news yet.”

“Maybe so, Janie. Still and all Ah’d love tuh experience it for just one year. It look lak heben tuh me from where Ah’m at.”

“Ah reckon so.”

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is seeking to find beauty in a world filled with pain and loss, who wants to witness powerful and subtle character development, and who has a passion for the classics. You can be certain I’ll be checking out Zora Neale Hurston’s other works. Even if they are only half as engaging as Their Eyes Were Watching God, they will have been worth it.

What Do You Think?

  • Have you read any of Zora Neale Hurston’s works? If so, what do you think?
  • What audiobook last completely enraptured you?
  • Can you think of any authors you enjoy because they capture a duality of voice? Such as, in this case, the colloquial language of southern black Americans and poetic prose?


  • Grab the Lapels May 8, 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I’m so excited for you to have experienced Zora Neale Hurston! This is the first book by her that most people read because it’s been getting more popular in colleges since Alice Walker resurrected Hurston’s name back in the 1970s. I think if someone isn’t familiar with the dialect Hurston uses, it’s especially a good idea to get the audio book. I’ve been reading dialect so long that it comes quite easily to me, but I know others struggle to make meaning one word at a time. If you ever want to watch a film version of the play A Raisin in the Sun, you should be able to get it at your library. Ruby Dee famously plays Ruth, the wife.

    I’m going to read some more Zora next. I think it would be wise of me to read her books in order because they seem to build off of each other. I think next would be her nonfiction work about meeting real zombies down in Haiti. Did I send you the youtube link of her talking about what a zombie is? YES, Zora was recorded!

    • whatthelog May 10, 2017 at 3:23 am

      Whaaaaaat! Nonfiction about zombies?! Yes please! (Also seconding Ruby Dee in Raisin in the Sun, she is excellent.)

      • Grab the Lapels May 10, 2017 at 7:01 am

        The audio is about five minutes long here where she talks about meeting real zombies:

        • Jackie B May 10, 2017 at 9:47 am

          Yes—When I was looking up my favorite quotes, I didn’t realize that Hurstson had truly written in the dialect. If I had tried to just read this on paper I would have struggled quite a bit. I’m so glad you recommended the audiobook. And now, A Raisin in the Sun! Perfect. I’d love to see Ruby Dee in action.

          Non-fiction Zombies?! YES. Thank you for sharing this video (audio?)! I’ll certainly have to check this out.

      • Jackie B May 10, 2017 at 9:46 am

        My thoughts *exactly*. I definitely need to check that out. Who knew there was a non-fiction zombie book?!

      • Jackie B May 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        This means I’ll certainly have to watch it now– two recommendations!? Bring it on.

  • KrystiYAandWine May 8, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    This book sounds just phenomenal, Jackie! I have never read this or any of Zora Neale Hurston’s books, but it sounds like I certainly need to. This is a beautiful review. I adore the quotes that you’ve included. What incredible writing!

    • Jackie B May 10, 2017 at 9:56 am

      I really enjoyed it– I haven’t read anything else she’s written, but I am certainly in love with her writing style. I’ll be checking out more, such as the non-fiction zombie tale Melanie @ GTL mentioned above. 😀

      Do you listen to audiobooks? I would certainly encourage you to check it out!

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea May 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Wow Jackie! This review is moving! What a perfect example of why I simply must continue to expand my reading horizons. Thank you <3

    • Jackie B May 10, 2017 at 9:58 am

      D’aw. Thank *you*! Your positivity keeps me going.

  • Diana May 9, 2017 at 1:07 am

    Fabulous review Jackie. I love love this book. Its one of the most powerful stories that I have ever read. The dialect was new to me but it made sense and I enjoyed it. The poetic aspects that you mentioned added to the beauty of the narrative. I also got to watch this movie(more than 5 times I think) which made me enjoy the book even more since I watched before reading it. Great book and your review just did justice to it.

    • Jackie B May 10, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Thanks, Diana! That means a lot to me. I agree- it’s really powerful. I didn’t realize there was a film. Apparently, Halle Berry is Janie? Awesome. I’ll have to check it out. That will add another layer of understanding for me, I’m certain. Thanks for the heads up!

  • whatthelog May 10, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Their Eyes Were Watching God is incredible <3 I'm not really an audiobook person (I tend to fall asleep whilst listening to them, oops!) but this sounds absolutely amazing. I can definitely see why listening to the dialect could be better than reading it. I think as well, because my Bermuda accent is a bit similar to that of the American South, it would really feel quite home-like if I listened to it. Definitely food for thought!

    • Jackie B May 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      I am certainly hit or miss with audiobooks. A bad narrator can definitely break an audiobook experience for me. I prefer to listen to them when I am driving into work or going on a run. I find it’s easier to focus on them then, for some reason.

      If you ever do get to listening to this, I’d love to know what you think! Even if it’s just an excerpt. 😀

  • theorangutanlibrarian May 10, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Ahh yes- this is such a wonderful book- so emotional and beautifully written- I’m so glad you liked it!! 😀

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom May 13, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Beautiful review Jackie! I just finished this one via audiobook this week, but was a little conflicted with it. I 100% agree that it is wonderfully narrated, Ruby Dee was really able to bring these characters to life. The writing was beautiful, and I enjoyed the story overall… I think my biggest issue was the chunk of the book where the focus shifted to Joe Starks for a period of time… This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Joe’s story and all about developing Eatonville, but I wanted JANIE’s POV… It almost felt like she slipped into the shadows at times. I have no idea if that makes any type of sense. I still need to work out my feelings on this one it seems.

    • Jackie B May 15, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      No, it totally makes sense! I completely understand what you are saying about Joe Starks being the focus. Actually, I think that tells us a lot about Janie. It shows us that she doesn’t quite know how to be an individual or independent woman. In fact, she thought that she needed to be defined by her husband so much that she omits herself from her own narrative! Don’t forget, even though this is in 3rd person, Janie is telling this story of Phoeby.

      I caught the same thing. At the time, I was so frustrated at how insignificant Janie was. But once Joe died and she was freed from his rule, so to speak, that I realized how much more there was going to be to Janie’s story. She had to be in that position in order to realize how trapped she was and in order to grow into her own woman.

      …So, yes. I loved that in retrospect. Sorry to soapbox. O_o Regardless of whether you agree, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story overall!

  • AvalinahsBooks May 14, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Gosh this is a lovely cover! Amazing. And yes, Grab The Lapels is indeed the place to look for such recs. Judging by your quotes, I would probably also want the audio version – so much more genuine, and easier to take in (I can see how reading that accent could be hard :D). Seems like something I’ll have to consider putting on my TBR 🙂

    By the way! I’ve just started reading Anne of Green Gables! Oh my gosh, how did I take so many years to get to it?? I’m so happy about that readalong. I looove the writing style and I know I’m going to adore this book. Have you finished it yet, or are you still reading? And do you know how the readalong will work? Like, we all post reviews and visit each other’s blogs, or..? I’m a puzzled little blogger about these things 😀

    • Jackie B May 15, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      I just picked up another book from the library as recommended by Melanie *and* I just won a giveaway from her blog too! SO MANY BOOKS. I am super glad I found Grab the Lapels. 🙂

      I am at 88% as of last night. I should be able to finish it tonight, I think? Right now the read along is mostly just cross-posting (MWAHAHAAHA!) but I wanted to talk to Jane about expanding it. Don’t mind me, just butting in, trying to achieve my blogging goals for 2017! I would LOVE to see you participate.

      • AvalinahsBooks May 16, 2017 at 5:11 am

        Aw, congrats! I haven’t won a giveaway in ages now. But I actually have 4 library books for which I just had to extend my time and I just AM NOT reading them xD gosh.

        Jane said she would be doing a linkup eventually, so that’s fine, we all get to see each other’s posts 🙂 I am somewhere halfway through the book now. I should be done soon too.

        • Jackie B May 16, 2017 at 12:20 pm

          Thanks! I feel like it’s been forever since I won a giveaway, too. 🙂

          Yay! I’m so excited to chat about Anne with you. 😀

  • Shouni May 15, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Great review Jackie! I’m so glad you loved the audio book so much. Jamie is a phenomenal person with great strength and courage. I read Their Eyes Were Watching God last year and struggled with the dialect at first before adjusting to it. Even then, I think that’s part of the reason I couldn’t fully appreciate the story. I think I would’ve liked it much more if I had listened to the audio book instead.

    • Jackie B May 15, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks! Yes– I can’t even imagine picking this book up without knowing about the written out dialect. It would have been quite a challenge! Perhaps you’ll be looking for a do-over some day? In that case, I certainly recommend the audio book. 🙂

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